A Call for Participants

[UPDATE: I’VE DECIDED TO ELIMINATE THE SKYPE PORTION OF THIS PROJECT: ANYONE CAN PARTICIPATE, BUT IF YOU FEEL THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SCHEDULE A SESSION AT ANY POINT TO DISCUSS YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THE ASSIGNMENTS, I’LL BE AVAILABLE. WE NOW HAVE A FIRM BEGINNING DATE OF FEBRUARY 1, 2013.]

Now that I’ve nearly finished my book on defense mechanisms, I’m wondering what to do next. I’ll continue with my book on shame and the defenses against it, but I’d also like to work on something more interactive, involving visitors to the site.

The project I have in mind would last about a year and eventually evolve into a book. At the beginning of each month, I’d post an exercise in a separate section of my website. During that month, participants would independently undertake the exercise, then share their responses with one another as comments to the posted exercise — a kind of virtual group therapy. I would also respond to and engage in the conversation. Participation should involve no more than 5-6 hours per month.

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A Request for Input

I’d like to continue making videos for my YouTube channel; I want to do a series of lectures or talks that would be easier and faster to produce, without all the editing involved in using film clips. I’ve got some thoughts about what might work, but I’d like to ask for your input on this issue. What I’m looking for is a theme that might unite a number of different videos. When my book on psychological defense mechanisms comes out next year, I’m planning to do a whole series about individual defenses, but it feels premature to begin that project right now. Any thoughts? What would be of interest to you? I would definitely want it to me more clinical, more focused on the psychotherapy process. Please write and let me know if you have any suggestions. Thanks!

Shame and How It Produces Envy

A teenage boy who I’ll call Sam recently told me that he was having a “problem with jealousy.” When I asked Sam what he meant, he explained that Ryan, another boy at his school, was incredibly charismatic and popular; all the other kids wanted to be around him and he seemed able to attract anyone he wanted. Sam’s feelings of “jealousy” were so powerful, so painful that at times, he couldn’t bear to look at Ryan. “He just makes me feel so bad about myself,” Sam added.

When Sam uses the word jealousy, he’s actually referring to what I would instead call envy. (I discuss the difference between the two in this earlier post.) Sam also has it backwards: Ryan doesn’t make him feel bad about himself; Sam already feels bad about himself (full of shame), and because of this basic feeling that’s he’s defective or damaged, different from and inferior to other people, his envy of Ryan is excruciating painful. Envy is a normal human emotion, one virtually everybody feels at one time or another; as I’ve said before, it also has its value, teaching us what we want to have or to be, and thereby motivating us. When coupled with basic shame, however, it becomes toxic.

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Attachment Theory and the Healing Psychotherapy Relationship

In the first part of this series, I discussed Allan Schore’s video about early neurological damage resulting from failures in the attachment relationship between mother and baby. In the second part, I used Schore’s research to help explain why our defense mechanisms are so tenacious, and why authentic change is difficult and rare. I’d now like to conclude with my personal, somewhat idiosyncratic view on how real change occurs, how that early damage can to some degree be healed, and what conditions are necessary to do so. I don’t have the science to back it up; all I can offer is my experience, both as a client on the couch for 14 years, and in working with my own clients for the last three decades.

My thesis is simple: if failures in early attachment damage the brain as it develops, the way to repair that damage (to the extent possible) is through another “attachment” relationship that somewhat resembles but also differs in major ways from that early bond: the psychotherapy relationship. I suppose I mean that in therapy, something like a “corrective emotional experience” occurs, as long as we don’t idealize that experience and we understand that therapy doesn’t fully correct for all those early emotional failures. The corrective emotional experience in therapy is not a replacement for a mother who truly loved and cared for you. It’s the closest to such an experience that many people ever get but it’s a distant “second best.”

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